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Start me up: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Buffalo Bills edition

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How can the Chiefs attack the Bills defense? What should the Chiefs offense do to stop the Bills pass rush? Read on for a Chiefs-Bills preview from Ryan Scott Hall.

Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE

There's one final test before the showdown we've all been waiting for. If you're like me, you almost forgot the Chiefs had to play Buffalo (for the SIXTH year in a row) and you don't really know what to expect. Truth be told, I over-looked this game right up until ... well ... now - sitting at my kitchen table, writing Start Me Up for all you lovely people.

Here's a challenge: find a more mystifying team than these Buffalo Bills. First you look at their 3-5 record and they appear to be a bit of a pushover. Then you check the schedule and come to find that their three wins have come against solid teams in the Panthers, Ravens and Dolphins.

Do a bit more research and you'll see that two of their losses (Patriots and Bengals) came on the final play, while their other three defeats were:

1. A seven point road loss to the Jets

2. That heartbreaking Thursday night game in which they lost their starting QB and Cleveland scored the final 20 points

3. And last week's loss to New Orleans in a game they lead 10-7 late in the first half.

Listen: all told, the Bills are pretty freaking tough. They're a young team that competes for 60 minutes, runs the ball extremely well, rushes the passer with ease and that +2 turnover ratio says they don't make a ton of mistakes. The story on them so far has been injuries to key players like rookie QB EJ Manuel, sensational RB CJ Spiller, franchise player Jarius Byrd and shutdown corner Stephon Gilmore.

Doug Marrone is in his first season with Buffalo after four up-and-down years as head coach at Syracuse University. This is his second tenure in the professional ranks, serving as the offensive line coach for the Jets under Herm Edwards (four years) and the offensive coordinator for Sean Payton in New Orleans (three years) prior to taking the job at his alma mater. Nathaniel Hackett is Buffalo's offensive coordinator, the same title he held under Marrone at Syracuse. Mike Pettine joined the Bills as defensive coordinator after serving in the same capacity for four marvelous seasons with the Jets. Also a former member of the Baltimore Ravens staff, Pettine followed Rex Ryan to New York where they enjoyed tremendous defensive success.












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The Bills defense

Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Alan Branch make-up one of the best defensive lines in football. Buffalo uses a hybrid 3-4 that sometimes moves All-World talent Mario Williams to defensive end rather than outside linebacker. Former first round picks Manny Lawson and Jerry Hughes also see time at both DE and OLB depending on the formation / situation / etc.

Rookie sensation LB Kiko Alonso is one of the early favorites for Defensive Rookie of the Year, already eclipsing 80 tackles and adding a sack, a FF and four interceptions. When employing the 3-4, Arthur Moats joins Alonso in the middle of the defense.

Rookie sensation LB Kiko Alonso is one of the early favorites for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Buffalo's secondary has a ton of potential but suffered through the first five games without two immensely talented players in FS Jarius Byrd and CB Stephon Gilmore. Both have been brought along slowly over the past three weeks, each finally making their first start against the Saints. Aaron Williams is a corner that spent some time in the safety rotation with Jim Leonhard and Da'Norris Searcy in Byrd's absence. Other corners that you'll see plenty of on Sunday are Leodis McKelvin, Justin Rogers and Nickell Roby.

How to attack them

Starting the season without two stellar members of their secondary put the Bills behind the eight ball. Of all 24 TDs scored against them - a number that includes defense and special teams scores - 20 have come via the pass, far and away the most in the league. Let's call this Bills unit "opportunistic" however, with 27 sacks (2nd to KC) and 12 INTs (T-3rd) on the year.

With Gilmore and Byrd rounding back into form, I'm not sure that Alex Smith challenging them through the air is the best idea. This Bills defense can sneak up on you, especially if their offense sustains a few drives and allows them to stay fresh.

Of the 24 TDs scored against Buffalo, 20 have come via the pass, far and away the most in the league.

Don't expect a lot of running room either, especially in the red zone. Buffalo's defense has allowed just two rushing touchdowns this year and less than four yards per carry. With Jamaal Charles now grinding through his fourth injury, I fully expect this to be a low scoring game that once again requires a tremendous amount of patience offensively.

Kansas City's special teams rate near the top of the league and Buffalo is near the bottom, so you may see the game defined by field position and / or a game-changing return touchdown.

The Bills offense

One of the league's premier rushing attacks resides in Buffalo thanks to Fred Jackson, CJ Spiller and... well... questionable quarterback play.

Rookie EJ Manuel was 2-2 as a starter before injuring his knee against the Browns in Week 5. Jeff Tuel (a 2013 undrafted rookie) replaced him in that game but completed just 8-of-20 passes. Enter Thaddeus Lewis, the 25-year old current starter who was on the practice squad just days before his first start with the Bills in Week 6. Frankly speaking, Lewis has played exceptionally well in his three starts. While he's not a playmaker per se, Lewis has shown a lot of poise despite being thrust into a starting role without much notice or preparation. Matt Flynn also signed a couple weeks ago but hasn't seen the field yet.

The aforementioned duo of Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller has accounted for 40 percent of the Bills offense this year. Due to a nagging ankle injury, Spiller has lost a lot of explosion and seen a much lighter workload than expected. Surely you remember Spiller's performance against the Chiefs last year ... 18 touches for 170 yards and two TDs? The Chiefs are extremely fortunate that he's hobbled, especially in the passing game where he's averaging less than three yards over his 14 receptions.

Surely you remember Spiller's performance against the Chiefs last year ... 18 touches for 170 yards and two TDs?

Buffalo has quietly put together one of my favorite receiving corps in the league. I hate Steve Johnson on principle thanks to that cheap shot on my boy Eric Berry, but it's hard to argue with his production as a player. They also managed to draft Robert Woods (USC) and Marquise Goodwin (Texas), two of my major crushes in the 2013 class. Throw in the enormous 6'7 veteran TE Scott Chandler and you have yourself quite a group of pass catchers.

Left tackle Cordy Glenn is in his second year out of the University of Georgia. Aside from a minor issue with penalties, he's stood his ground in rather impressive fashion despite some of the lowest graded play in PFF history by left guards this year. After allowing bona fide stud Andy Levitre to depart via free agency, the Bills turned to former Scott Pioli draft pick Colin Brown - he was rated at -28.1 after four games, was benched in the fifth and released a few days later. Doug Legursky (a converted center) is the current starter at left guard. Eric Wood (center) and Kraig Urbik (right guard) have dealt with injuries in their careers, but have started next to one another for the majority of the last three seasons. Right tackle Erik Pears is wholly unpredictable, commanding help from tight ends and running backs in pass protection fairly often.

How to stop them

Like most young quarterbacks, Thad Lewis has really struggled against the blitz. The speed of the game is still too fast for him, so uh... I guess you could say that bodes well for Kansas City? Last week against the high-pressure Saints defense, Lewis threw one pick, lost two of three fumbles, was sacked four times and knocked to the ground five more.

From my vantage point, Bob Sutton played it very cool against Cleveland. I didn't notice any of the creative blitzes we've seen over the course of the season. In fact, it seemed like the Chiefs defense generated pressure based on winning one-on-ones when sending just three or four guys. I'm not saying the Chiefs have to be ultra-aggressive in Buffalo on Sunday, but it would be wise to put some fear in this young signal-caller early.

Where the Chiefs really have to be careful is on overload blitzes. Jackson and Spiller have combined for 41 receptions and all the wideouts have dynamic ability with the ball in their hands. Screens, slants and other quick throws into the right area could lead to big chunks of yardage and/or long touchdowns. Look for the defense to really crowd the line this week - more than usual, even. Buffalo likes to pound the rock and has a young quarterback, so it's very likely we stack as many as eight or nine guys on the line of scrimmage like we've seen a few times this year.

Key advantages for Buffalo

1. In the trenches - The Chiefs simply don't have the interior strength to match up with the likes of Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Not only are both players outstanding against the run, they've shown rare ability to affect the passing game as 3-4 down linemen with four sacks apiece. Then you have Eric Fisher's growing pains and his looming duel with the pass rushing trio of Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and Jerry Hughes ... in a word: yikes. Alex was sacked SIX times against Cleveland - this week should be equally troublesome.

2. Balance - The Bills are damn near a 50 / 50 split of run and pass ... plays, yards, TDs - you name it, they're neck and neck. As a byproduct of young / inconsistent QB play, Marrone and Hackett have been forced to establish the run first and use the pass as a complimentary asset. Fred Jackson is capable of getting the tough yards between the tackles and CJ Spiller (when healthy) can get to the edge as well as anyone. Needless to say, discipline will be paramount for the Chiefs on Sunday.

Key advantages for Kansas City

1. Health - Yeah, yeah, yeah ... Jamaal is the best player and he's a little banged up, but have you seen the Bills injury report? Thad Lewis, Fred Jackson, CJ Spiller, Steve Johnson and Marquise Goodwin, Kyle Williams and Manny Lawson are all questionable. Perhaps the most important player on that list is Lewis because if he can't go, the Chiefs get to unleash on something called a Jeff Tuel.

2. Building blocks - Most people will tell you that QB and head coach are the two most important pieces when assembling a football team. Welp ... it's Andy Reid and Alex Smith vs. Doug Marrone and Thaddeus Lewis / Jeff Tuel - you tell me who has the edge? That's only the beginning, folks. The Chiefs are once again better than their opponent in all three phases. Really, the only thing not going their way this week (on paper) is the fact that it's a road game.

The bottom line

Had EJ Manuel not gotten injured against Cleveland, I see the Bills as a .500 or better team that is probably closer (competitively speaking) to the Chiefs than say ... the Vikings. If you simply look at volume stats, the Bills are outmatched but Confucius says volume stats never tell whole story.

Beyond all reason, the Bills have managed to keep each of their games fairly close from start to finish. There's a lot of fight in this (under)dog; more than most teams seem to expect. This is the very definition of a trap game and I for one am pretty worried about what could transpire.

Strength of schedule is a tough nut to crack, so let's simplify things and look the facts:

Buffalo's opponents are 35-25 and the Chiefs' are 20-41.

Both teams have played a lot of close games; Kansas City has just been able to come out on top in all of them. The major statistical differences that I found between these two teams fall in that super geeky realm of "hidden yards". The Chiefs have the best average starting field position in the NFL and their time of possession is just outside the top 10. Buffalo on the other hand is 23rd in starting field position and 31st in time of possession.

Loose translation: the Chiefs keep finding a way to win, forcing me to find obscure statistical explanations for it.

Barring a gametime scratch of Thad Lewis, this is the toughest matchup the Chiefs have had in 2013.

Chiefs 20 - Bills 16 - Ryan 12 (words shy of 2222)

PS: If the Chiefs really do get to Duel Tuel (ZING), they better win by 14+ on Sunday.

Also, the DirknesS is in Jamaica this weekend so the Amateur Hour postgame show will feature a good friend of mine with powerful sports knowledge - the one and only El Heat. Yes, it's odd that both my regular co-host and his Week 9 fill-in insist upon using a nickname. Regardless, El Heat and I won't miss a beat while Dirk is on the PUP List so tune-in LIVE around 4 p.m. (Arrowhead Time) on Sunday, a little earlier than usual.

And please, for the love of all things holy, GO RED TEAM.

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